Eighteen months of books

Tl;dr: Mini reviews of books that I’ve finished in the last year and a half.

Yeap, another non-physics post, making use of the fact that this is a personal blog. I hope that there’s something in it for you, although I’m afraid you’ll probably be in the unpleasant position of finding out less about these books and more about me.

(Why one and a half? I usually do this thing on Facebook at the start of each year, but the start of this one served too much to handle. So let’s round things up and here’s to the second half of 2023.)

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie: 6/10

Another good Poirot collection but don’t really remember much from it.

Zen: The Art of Simple Living (禅、シンプル生活のすすめ) by Shunmyo Masuno: 5/10

A pleasant and attractive small book, but. It has often been remarked that although zen buddhism cannot be described by words, tons of books have been written about it. More crucially, almost all of these describe its goal but a description doesn’t bring the reader closer to achieving it. This particular book is earnest in trying to bring some harmony into people’s lives by promoting a few good habits, but I doubt it accomplishes much more.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson: 4/10

One of the self-help books that make you kinda enthusiastic while you are reading them and once you finish them you realize that nothing has stuck.

By the Gods (Για Όνομα των Θεών) by Vassilis Kannas: 7/10

One of the very few books that can actually cause the reader to lol. A blend of comedy, noir crime and fantasy (and contemporary greek reality), where an anti-hero of a private detective has to face a lot more than he signed up for. Also trans-friendly and deity-friendly. (Unfortunately only available in greek so far.)

Blindsight by Peter Watts: 8/10

One of the most significant science fiction novels ever. It’s not just a well-written and intellectual hard-SF tale of a post-scarcity Earth making first contact involving space travel and quirky heroes (although it’s also this). Its huge strength lies in its central idea. A critic wrote that it’s a book that doesn’t just change one’s view of the world, but also changes the person that reads the book. (I will only clarify that its central idea is not sci-fy, but relates to the actual world.)

Please don’t read much about this novel if you plan to read it, as the spoiler is weaved in the overall structure of the story. Let the book itself serve it to you in its sweet little way.

Character and neurosis by Claudio Naranjo: 8/10

One of the founding texts of the empirical psychological system known as the enneagram. Essential reading for more advanced acquaintance, less so as an introduction.

Hector and the Search for Happiness (Le Voyage d’Hector ou la Recherche du Bonheur) by François Lelord: 6/10

Original and fresh book, written in The Little Prince’s style, with a loose plot – a psychologist travels the world to see what makes people happy. Some parts are beautiful, some rather insightful, some brain-dead idiotic.

The most personally significant part was that it was given to me as a gift while / because I was on an extensive trip, and this was heart-warming.

Surrender (臣服) by Mò Qīng Chén [sp?]: 6/10

Quite an interesting book, and I explain. And boy, is there a lot to explain.

“Surrender” is a great example of danmei, better known by the japanese term yaoi or boys love – the manga and literary genre of erotic stories between two men, written for straight women. While written with the rather shallow smoothness of good old romantic erotica, this novel is further distinguished by three features.

First, it’s surprisingly heavy on BDSM. Without giving any spoilers, let’s just say that it still manages to turn out romantic.

Second, it offers a surprising, even if cartoonish, insight into contemporary chinese upper class. Or rather, drop the “cartoonish” and make it “fairy-tale”. At some point it struck me that what I’m reading could have been any old chinese tale with princes, courtiers and concubines; but in chinese capitalism they’re simply swiftly replaced by CEOs, mobsters and escorts.

Third, according to what I read online, professing no expert knowledge on the matter, danmei is prohibited in China, and authors have kind of gone underground; in addition, novels like this one are brought to world audiences only through the generosity of individual translators (in this case Lajna); and all this just adds to the charm of the book.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt: 7/10

An interesting bestseller from the ’90s. In the standard stupid carnal american campus, a group of students studying humanities aspire to access ancient greek mystic knowledge, and commit a murder in the process. Obvious themes are accompanied by unmentioned contrasts running throughout the story, which is punctuated by a few incredibly artful scenes involving ancient mysticism.

In personal significance, I learned only recently that The Secret History is one of the main works in the genre called dark academia. And I quickly recognized that this was my subculture during high school, only that I didn’t know it had a name and that there existed many people with similar taste. ^^

Will It Fly by Pat Flynn: 3/10

Advice for wannabe entrepreneurs who are so clueless that they don’t know what their enterprise will be about. One more crappy coaching book.

Passion Play by Felice Dunas: 7/10

Interesting book with practical love life advice based on chinese medicine. I can’t attest to its validity, but it has the exceptional merit of discussing everything sex in detail and in a pleasant way, which looks surprisingly difficult for most humans to do.

The Prince (Il Principe)(aka Ο Ηγεμόνας) by Nicolo Macchiaveli: 6/10

The very interesting and original classic, which is also irrationally boring and hard to read. In addition to the face value of the information in its pages, it serves as a reminder of how perverted humanity’s public life is, and makes one wonder when we’ll be able to break free from the shackles of rotten political systems and raw power, which are held together by mere consensus. (I know this escalated quickly, but such was my sentiment through 90% of the book.)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (20,000 Lieues Sous les Mers) by Jules Verne: 8/10 [rereading]

A classic proof that if there is imagination and passion, good writing can go to hell and everyone will be happy.

The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung) by Sigmund Freud: 10/10 [rereading]

What to say? One of the best books ever written and one of the most important scientific texts ever written. The universe of dreams within each one of our brains, supposedly random and irrational, suddenly explained.

(If you want to start reading Freud, I recommend “On Dreams” and “Dreams and Telepathy”, which are kind of mini summaries of the Interpretation. [In Greece they are published in a single small volume by editions Επίκουρος.])

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod: 2/10

At some point I should stop reading self-help books. One of the most idiotic texts I’ve come across. (Also, yes, you’ll benefit from taking some time in the morning to look after yourself; if, however, you feel that your life will change by this, then you have far greater problems that won’t get that easily fixed.)

Edit: Actually, I realized that I did stop reading self-help after this one.

Ectoplasms (Εκτοπλάσματα) by Miltos Sachtouris: 6/10

An engaging, but too existential, collection by a good quasi-surrealist greek poet.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: 6/10

Interesting book that sets out to showcase how extremely successful people are a product of very fine-tuned good luck. In the process it points out some mind-boggling societal conventions that serve none but none removes. I’ll have to disagree with some of its conclusions, but I’d still say it’s a worthwhile book.

The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Richard Alpert: 9/10 [rereading]

If you have even the slightest serious interest in the mind, spirituality, buddhism, or meditation, you should read this incredible book as soon as you can. As in, close this tab, cancel everything you have today and google “psychedelic experience leary pdf” now. If you had or will have any contact with mind-expanding substances, you should do so even more quickly.

Turning towards the Heart by Hazrat Azad Rasool: 2/10 and 8/10

Yeap, the final book happened to be one of those that deserve double rating. An introduction to sufism, the islamic variety of mysticism, and in particular its Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi order.

The 8/10: A book that’s both psychologically insightful and offering clarifications to those first getting hands-on with the sufi techniques (which I was very lucky to do in Malaysia).

The 2/10: And all of a sudden, empty repetitive statements emanating from ritualistic religious considerations instead of transcedence. Imho, a very common final obstacle to many practictioners of spiritual techniques, and a very rare to overcome. (If you’re shocked by my statements, please don’t be … and let this bring us to →→)

→→ The comments section! Thoughts? Comments? Strong opinions? Suggestions for the next list? Throw a comment below.

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